Scientists aboard the Swedish icebreaker ship Oden working to measure the level of methane emissions escaping from the Arctic seafloor have uncovered startling results.

A week into their journey, the international team of scientists reported “elevated methane levels, about ten times higher than background seawater.” The methane levels may be higher, the team says, because of relatively warm water coming from the Atlantic Ocean and mixing with the colder Arctic.

A press release from the University of Stockholm said,

“By use of acoustic techniques and geochemical analyses of water samples, the scientists found vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor at depths between 500 m[eters] and 150 m[eters]. At several places, the methane ‘bubbles’ even rose to the ocean surface. What’s more, results of preliminary analyses of seawater samples pointed towards levels of dissolved methane 10–50 times higher than background levels.“

The scientists call these methane plumes “mega flares,” and chief scientist Örjan Gustafsson wrote on his blog that the team “is hypothesizing that this heating may lead to the destabilization of upper portion of the slope methane hydrates. This may be what we now for the first time are observing.”

Methane doesn’t last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but it is about 20 times more powerful and more effective than CO2 at trapping heat. Jason Box, professor of Glaciology at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, calls the mega flares “damn scary” and said that “sea ice reduction is destabilizing the shallow Arctic Ocean continental shelf waters. Without the reflective cover, the ocean is taking on a lot more solar heat during the 24 [hour] summer days, making it harder for the sea ice to reform, in a self compounding feedback process.”

“The trajectory we’re on is to awaken a runaway climate heating that will ravage global agricultural systems leading to mass famine [and] conflict,” continued Box. “Sea level rise will be a small problem by comparison. We simply MUST lower atmospheric [greenhouse gas] emissions.”

“This is an all hands on deck moment,” warned Box. “We’re in the age of consequences.”

You can track the Oden’s journey here.